On Saturday, both the Heat and Mrs. Finest and I returned to Stockton Arena from a road trip. While I went 0-1-0-1 (and Mrs. Finest went 1-0-0-1), the Heat went 1-3-0-0 on their road trip, keeping them in sixth in the division, a whopping 11 points from a playoff spot. The good news is they welcomed the Colorado Eagles, whom they have a 4-1-0-1 record against this season.
Before Saturday’s game was the third and final Chalk Talk for season ticket holders. Coach MacLean spent time acknowledging the impact Curtis Lazar had on this team and that he will be missed. I asked him about the goaltending situation for the remainder of the year. He said there will be a steady diet of Jon Gillies and Tyler Parsons. He went on and on about how Gillies can carry a team and when he is on, he is hard to beat. Translation: be prepared to see Gillies a lot for the remainder of the year.
Mrs. Finest asked about what his plans are for shoring up the defense. He talked about increase practice time, more video review, and making sure the forwards are engaged more in the defensive end. He mentioned that as the Flames get healthier defensively, it may help Stockton. Hummm…
Coach MacLean commented that Matt Taormina is a few weeks away from returning, Andrew O’Brien is working out but not skating yet with a lower-body injury, and Marcus Hogstrom’s most recent injury is not related to the injury he sustained that kept him out for the first four months, but sounds like he won’t see the ice again this year.
SATURDAY – 2/15 – COLORADO
The Heat came out playing hard and fast. They scored first when Scott Sabourin found Mike McMurtry with a cross-ice pass and deposited the puck into an open net for a 1-0 lead.
Elton John once sang “Saturday Night’s Alright for a Fight” and the Heat took that to heart. The undercard featured Ryan Lomberg and Colorado’s Travis Barron. Two minutes later, Sabourin got into the act with Colorado’s Max McCormick, who took exception with Sabourin’s clean mid-ice check, sending an Eagle flying through the air. That fight ended Mr. McCormick’s night with instigating, fighting, and a game misconduct. The Heat took a 1-0 lead back to their corner in between rounds, I mean periods.
Stockton extended their lead to three in the second with goals from Rinat Valiev and Dillon Dube. The play continued to be physical with a few skirmishes and players finishing checks but no major penalties.
Colorado got on the board three minutes into the third on a nice one-timer that beat Gillies far post glove high; a shot he had no chance of saving. Dube got his second of the night on a nice feed from Alan Quine to extend the lead back to three.
On the ensuing center ice faceoff, Sabourin and Cody Bass were jawing at each other and the refs sent them off for matching misconduct minors. Colorado scored on the four-on-four with a quick snipe where Gillies was screened in front. As the matching penalties to Sabourin and Bass ended, both exited the sin bin and it was on: time for the main event, coincidently held at center ice. Both threw their helmets and got down to it. This was one of the best fights I have seen in some time. As Sabourin skated off the ice, he fired up the 5,700+ in the arena, urging them to stand and cheer.
Back to hockey. Brett Pollock put back a rebound from a Dube shot to extend the lead back to three. Another scuffle involving Valiev and a Colorado player led to a game misconduct for Valiev. Funny that he was sitting on the bench when a ref came over to tell him to go to the locker room. A few more chances by both sides were stopped and the Heat skated off with a 5-2 win. I love hearing Ring of Fire in the arena.
Postgame quotes can be found here.
SUNDAY – 2/16 – COLORADO (PART DEUX)
On Sunday, the Heat looked to sweep Colorado and close to within five points of fifth place and nine points of a playoff spot. With all the shenanigans from Saturday night, it had the making of another slugfest.
Spencer Foo was a scratch for Sunday’s game so Coach MacLean went with 11 forwards and seven defensemen instead of inserting Anthony Peluso into the lineup. Two minutes before puck drop, the Heat tweeted out that Foo had an upper body injury and would miss the game, but he sure looked fine throughout Saturday’s game. Andrew Nielsen joined the defensive squad as the seventh defensemen.
The game started where it left off Saturday night with good physical play. The Eagles were first to hit the scoreboard when, after an outstanding skate save by Spencer Martin, Colorado broke out two-on-one. Gillies stopped the initial shot but kicked the rebound directly in front for an easy put back and a 1-0 deficit at the midway mark of the first.
The Heat kept the pressure on and finally broke through in the final minute of play when Quine took a pass from Tyler Graovac on a three-on-one break to knot the score at one after 20 minutes.
In the early stages of the middle period, while on the penalty kill, Ryan Lomberg outworked a Colorado player to the puck and beat Martin glove side for his second shorthanded goal of the season to put the Heat up by one. While the Eagles would even things up with a power play goal, Stockton would regain the lead a few minutes later with five-on-three power play snipe from Quine. Matthew Phillips wrapped up a three-goal period by the Heat when Kerby Rychel spotted him streaking down the slot and hit him for a quick one-timer for a 4-2 advantage after two periods.
In the first two minutes of the third, again while killing a penalty, Josh Healey’s clearing pass found the stick of Dube, who streaked into the zone and found Buddy Robinson, who buried the shortie for a 5-2 lead. The Eagles clawed their way back into the game with their third goal of the night, but some timely saves by Gillies and a hat-flinging final power play tally by Quine gave the Heat a two-game winning streak. Ring of Fire never sounded so good.
Postgame quotes can be found here.
It is nice to finally write a positive article from a weekend set of games. These two games may have been the most complete games I have seen this season. Offensively, the Heat were more physical and aggressive, played north/south, and did not overpass the puck. On the defensive side, the team played smart by clearing bodies from the front of the net and making short, clean passes out of the zone. Lastly, Stockton got reliable play in net. This is the team I have been waiting for all year long.
Gillies played more aggressive than in the past. He wasn’t small, played further out of his net, and limited rebounds with a few exceptions. He looked more focused and engaged. Over his past three games, he is 3-0-0-0 with a 0.926 SV % and a 2.33 GAA. I wish this Gillies was here from the start of the season, but if he brings this game for the rest of the year, we really do have a shot at that fourth playoff spot in the West.
The Heat have 18 games remaining on their schedule. Ten of those games are against teams we are chasing in the standing: four against third place San Diego, and two each against Bakersfield (first), San Jose (second), and Tucson (fourth). Crazier things can happen, but this Heat team has the fire power to reel off eight or nine in a row to get right back into things. San Diego rode a 12-game win streak into third in the division and Bakersfield is currently on a 15-game win streak that has them atop of the Pacific. As Mulder told Scully, I still believe.
At the Chalk Talk, Heat CEO Brian Petrovek gave a state of the team address to the season ticket holders. I asked about the ongoing talks to extend the lease for the Heat past next year and what type of deal the team and city are looking at: year-to-year, three-year, or five-year extension. The answer: all of the above, but the biggest challenge is the practice facility. Currently the Heat share the arena with the Sacramento Kings D-League basketball team. Next year, the National Premier Soccer League will also occupy the Stockton Arena. This will limit the amount of practice time the Heat can use the arena for even more. The Heat use Oak Park Ice Arena as their practice facility (which is owned by SMG, the same people who own the arena) when the arena is being used for other purposes. This is a public rink that houses a few men’s leagues, four Stockton Colts youth hockey leagues (practice and games), curling, and other activities. The Heat need to secure practice time as part of the lease deal with SMG.
I want to thank everyone who met with us in Calgary and Vancouver on our recent trip. We had a great time talking hockey and meeting new friends. I am sorry we could only muster a single point for the Flames in two games, but it was nice to see Stockton alums Mark Jankowski score in Calgary and Andrew Mangiapane get his first goal for the Flames in Vancouver. We are already looking forward to next season’s trek and seeing where we can see a few games again.